Staying Inn

While Gina and other members of the Bouvarez clan ready themselves for visitors galore, I am pleased that summer has arrived in the Hudson Highlands and that Noah’s school obligations are over so that I can tend to the cocoon of privacy and alone-ness I’ve been cultivating here at the River’s edge for the past year (and longer) and Stay Home Alone. I mention the past year because that is when our friends left for the hinterlands of Italy–more about that next week–and longer because it has taken me almost 44 years of living on this planet to realize that I’m an introvert at heart.

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It’s not a realization that I’ve taken to comfortably. It took more than three decades and a serious conversation at an ungodly hour of a brand new year to help me even recognize that being alone, and quiet, are the states that I covet most.

I come from a family of talkers–on my mom’s side anyway. My grandmother is from Sicily and she holds the stereotypical Italian disposition of being temperamental, easily angered and loud. Love comes easily to her, too, which is illustrated in her steadfast loyalty and support of her grandchildren, some who have gotten divorced, sworn at God and gone to jail. Still, she thrives on togetherness, on the charge of noisy conversation and sharing a room, and a meal, with her children and their offspring (and their lovers–though she publicly calls them ‘friends’). At the age of 90 she lives alone, happily most of the time, but it’s no secret that she prefers occasions when every chair in her house is occupied and the television is switched to Sports Center and the grand-dogs are begging for meatballs at the kitchen door.

My mother’s extroversion is even more developed. Her want to be out in the world, along with her ability to keep a conversation going, is legendary in the small town that she and my father live in upstate. Joining her on errands to the bank or the supermarket promises to take far longer than the time needed to complete the tasks on her list–there are tellers to talk to and check out girls–former students of hers–who she’ll need to catch up with. Last weekend I went home for a large family party and watched my mother work the room. No matter that it wasn’t a party she was throwing (it was her brother’s wife’s birthday), she took it upon herself to make sure each person was sated and content. She moved from table to table with anecdotes and queries about new babies, deftly sipping her drink and nibbling cheese between bursts of laughter. I watched her from my seat at our table, re-checking the door for the quickest route of escape, and marveled at her energy and her endurance. When I had arrived with her an hour earlier I said hello to my Aunt (the guest of honor), my cousins (the actual hosts) and my grandmother and then hightailed it to the bar. When my mother got to our table (convinced to return only by the announcement that dinner would be served shortly) she was glowing and happy and charged. If I had talked to that many people in that short of a span of time somebody would’ve needed to administer oxygen.

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Our quiet, empty table in contrast to Gina’s…though sometimes it gets filled with very close friends.

I seem a bit delayed in the knowing thyself department, so for a long time I thought that togetherness filled me up too. I’d throw parties and apply for jobs that required small talk and social skills. Whenever I tried to work a room I’d end up tongue tied and exhausted, but I persevered–thinking that triumph could be found in chit chat and charm but I was miserable and unsuccessful and I had no idea why. It also felt like a failing to not pass the torch of all that gregarious mojo on to Noah. He learned early that whenever we attend a school play or concert to flee to the car as soon as the curtain comes down and, at his baseball games, not to look for me in the crowded bleachers behind home plate, but under the tree beyond first base, alone.

This summer, as Gina’s house fills to capacity and friends and strangers enjoy witty conversations over breakfast and rowdy dinners under the stars, I’ll be here–a world away–(quietly) envying the party, but hopefully, finally understanding that my much more understated visit with her later in the summer will be just perfect for us. I’ll try to take solace in knowing that during those few nights in that gazebo in August we’ll be mesmerized not by the crowd, but by the hard lock of friendship and love and that while I might not be teaching Noah the art of social networking, I’ll be sharing with him the first sprouts of authenticity and what’s it’s like to live as yourself.

As for the big Cuban birthday party, I’ll let you know.

On Friendship

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“…you were either one of her closest friends or no friend at all. She had neither time nor energy for the casual acquaintanceship…she craved the hard lock: two minds, hearts, and souls as one, nothing unsaid, nothing untold, nothing unsung.” (Linda Grey Sexton, writing about the friendships of her mother Anne Sexton, in her book Searching for Mercy Street.)

Over the course of my forty-odd years on this planet, the platonic friendships I’ve assembled have lasted about as long as my relationships with men. Meaning: not very long. Meaning: in the wake of my life there lay scores of scattered (and archived) parting emails and fading photographs of people with whom I was once intimate, but will probably never see again.

I’m not sure what to attribute this backstory to. It’s not genetic. I come from a family that boasts long marriages and enduring relationships. My grandparents were married for 56 years. My parents (who are still very much a couple) met in Latin class when they were both in junior high school and my mother’s best friend (who she speaks to several times a week) was with them on their first date. My younger brother has dutifully joined the ranks of enduring-relationship-devoteés and has been in love with the same woman (with whom he now has four children) since 1996. I won’t bother to tally up the boyfriends that have paraded through my life since 1996, but I will admit that there are two husbands in the mix…if that gives you any indication of my regimen.

I’ve always told myself that I just didn’t get the chip for commitment; that I must have stood in line for the ‘cut and run’ skill set instead. (Though there remains the anomaly of my relationship to my family of origin. It is fierce–especially with my mother–who I talk to nearly every day.)

It has not been my plan to say goodbye to people that I love so often, but I know that all of those broken friendships have created a high level distrust in my psyche. One that remains to this day.

In writing this entry, I want to find fault. I want to point the finger at my bad choices or the nastiness of the people that I chose to befriend, but the truth is that the resilience of relationships is as ephemeral as fog on the river at dawn. Who knows why some friendships (or marriages) endure. A woman I know has decided to stay with her husband after she found he was sleeping with somebody else for years. Another marriage (local in its familiarity) very publicly imploded after two members of the two parties, who were all four friends at some point, decided to swap partners. I also know of a marriage that sustains as it is, riddled with infidelity, dishonesty and ambivalence–but the royalties keep coming in– and the viability of such a relationship (romantic or otherwise) remains forever up for grabs.

One can never tell.

I remember standing in bewilderment in the hallway of middle school as a girl I adored handed me back the friendship pins that I had made for her and told me, quite optimistically, that things weren’t working out between us, but she was sure that I would find someone else to give them to. That my friend and I had been been growing apart for weeks (she was a cheerleader, I joined the band) wasn’t something I considered significant at the time. All I knew was that this person, my friend, was the individual I had told about the wiry chin hairs that got electronically zapped off my face every few weeks, and I thought that divulgence had bonded us for life. It wasn’t that I was afraid she’d tell my secret (she never did) but I was horrified that a relationship in which I could be so vulnerable and that seemed so serious–that WAS so serious–could end so casually, so indifferently; as if it had never been anything at all.

Such is life I’ve come to know. In my twenty plus years of adulthood I’ve lost beloved pets, dental insurance coverage, a marriage and roughly two hundred tubes of lipstick. The truth is, much of what we have in this life doesn’t last very long. Transience and endings are a part of our our existence Here On Earth and our lives are richer because whatever we are able to retain is more clearly discerned by all the other things that fall away.

So I’m trying, on this early summer morning, to make peace with the ridiculous, though enticing, sentiment that my girl Anne Sexton speaks of (in the quote up there at the top of this post) and to chill out. To let go of all those Facebook posts that remind me of the connections I’ve failed to make and to ignore the birthday party that I wasn’t invited to and not feel bad about the acknowledgement page that I wasn’t included on or the group photo that I missed.

Instead, in the interest of clearing out, I want to accept the friendships that I have now and delight in them as if they’ll be around forever.

You never know, though. I’ll let you know what’s left standing at summer’s end.

 

 

Cleaning, Cleansing, Clearing Out (2)

Today is day five of The Cleanse and I’m feeling…fine? Ugh. I know. But fine really is the correct sentiment for and description of the bland roasted dandelion tea steeping next to me as I write. What I really want right now is a robust cup of coffee and a steak. It’s funny that I miss those things most. I thought that at this point in the process I’d be dying for pasta and cheese and wine. Though the ritual of sipping a hot beverage out of my favorite mug at my writing desk at 5am is still intact, the scent in the room is off. In place of the nutty, toasted, slightly bitter scent of my extra-dark roast, the air is filled with an earthy, after-the-rain, not as satisfying one.IMG_7318

During a cleanse or a fast, one’s senses become heightened–or mine have anyway–and things like aromas and music and angry voices behind me in the supermarket have become intense and glaring. Both Gina and I have written about change a lot on this blog. Heck, our very motivation for starting this thing was in preparation for the very big change to both of our lives (but more hers) that their move from Here to There was going to be, so it seems pretty fitting to be wrestling with new movements and shifts today, almost a year to the day that we said goodbye.

The slightly unpalatable tea I’m sipping has gotten me thinking about change this morning, but also about our ability as humans to adapt; to refine; to become different over time. The physical manifestation of our own redesign, so easily observed in the bodies of growing children and aging parents, has been more obvious to me this past week: in the way that my own body is reacting to this diet of raw food. The skin on my belly seems tighter, the perpetual circles under my eyes have lightened a bit and, after five nights of sugar-free, alcohol-free, caffeine-free sleep, I feel like I have the energy to swim to Italy. (Sigh.)

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“Raw” granola. Raw oats, raw walnuts, raw hemp, flax seeds & sea salt.

Less obvious, though, are the interior shifts that I detect when I investigate close enough; the changes in my heart and mind that are both subtle and earth shattering and the real incentives for embarking on this cleanse (and agreed to being 1/2 of this blog) in the first place. In changing the habits and patterns of my eating, I was hoping to expand and open up my soul a little bit, too; to push away whatever was blocking my writing and my thinking and my job finding. To pick through and recalibrate whatever ideas I’m holding onto about my age (as it relates to starting a new career) or my ability to make a living (as a woman and a mother) or my willingness to ask for help with either of those things.

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To become raw salad dressing. (Celery, dill, cukes, lemon, salt)

Things can get a little tricky here. There’s a woo-woo path I could take: The way of The Law of Attraction, or karma, or the Power of Positive Thinking–as if me eating raw carrots instead of slaughtered cows will somehow open up the road to a job or a book deal. Sure, folks have suggested that possibility to me this week and, at times, I’d have liked to believe them. But I’ve burned enough sage and chanted enough sanskrit in my life to know that things aren’t that easy. (If I get a job offer by the end of the week, I’ll have to eat my words.) Sure, I believe in the principle of cause and effect and I am certain that there’s some natural order to the actions of our lives that we haven’t fully decoded but, there’s a vastly simpler (though longer and more circuitous) path to living a life of clarity and purpose that I’m subscribing to, and that is one of learning to pay attention to what’s going on inside of me and using THAT as my guide.

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Chia & berry pudding.

To be sure, eating nothing but raw food for five days has caused a bit of turmoil inside of me this past week. Turmoil that has not only caused some chaos in my intestines (enough said) but has also forced me to sit with discomfort and worry and regret without being able to dull it or dampen it with food or a drink. There’s an uncomfortable expansiveness that happens in your mind when you can’t rely on the post-meal glycemic languidness that follows eating a dish of carbs. All week I’ve noticed myself waiting for it after dinner and, when it didn’t come, getting agitated and nervous and afraid. I’ve become so alert and conscious at times that it has left me feeling confusingly unstable; until I realize that the feeling of being totally present is actually something to cultivate and not try to bury.

The thing is, presence isn’t always pretty. Yes I can smell the wonton gamy-ness of the river outside the window and taste the honeysuckle blossoms that are just beginning to bloom in the yard, but I also notice the dirt streaked windows and all those spiderwebs in the hall. Presence requires one to notice all the delicious stuff in life–all those things that we love–but also pay attention–real attention–to the ugly, fetid stuff that we do and say that might need some adjusting, too. It’s no wonder we eat so much cake.

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Sprouted chick peas.

This finding of presence this week leads me to tell you about a book (that Gina also mentioned next door). I’m thrilled to share the news that Stefan’s book (and music) are coming out soon! (See dates below.) The Considered Life speaks directly to taking hold of the thoughts that we have that are lucid and distinct and clear, and then implores us to stay with them, to ride them to their source and, when faced with one’s naked and trembling self, compels us into an intimacy with our deepest beliefs, our most reverent thoughts and all those horrifying realizations we’ve tried to run from for so long which, once accepted as our truth, leave us forever changed. After that, we have no other choice than to proceed back out into the world and live accordingly.

It’s the opposite of a self-help book; it’s a decision, a guide, a way of life. You should pick up a copy. On sale June 14th.

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Cleaning, Cleansing, Clearing Out (1)

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Green juice for breakfast. This one is made from bok choy, celery, apples, lemon and ginger.

It’s a bit late in the season for spring cleaning but the old cliché claims better late than never, so it is in that spirit that I’m doing some clearing out this week. Early last weekend I started with the closets. Our house is teeny-tiny and so is our furniture so each of three of us who lives here has to do a seasonal switch of our clothing from the storage bins under our beds into dresser drawers down the hall. The boys here aren’t fans of this necessary custom, but I love it. It’s the perfect time to donate those too-tight jeans that I’ve kept rumpled up in the back of the bottom drawer since October, and to sort through Noah’s ever growing collection of graphic t-shirts and get rid of the ones that are stained or too-form-fitting (his very favorite ones I’m collecting in a box in the basement–pretending that one day I will make a quilt or something out of them). I also cleaned out the messy cave-like cupboards under the sink in the kitchen and in the bathroom, throwing away anything that was leaking, sticky or less than half full. (Why do I hold on to almost-used-up bottles of hand soap? Better yet, why don’t I use them up?)

The most significant cleansing I’m doing, though, is of my own sullied and straggly self. My internal world has become a polluted deluge over these past few months. I’ve been crabby and cranky and mean. As I waded ever-deeper into the job-search pool last winter, I watched my anxiety rise to flood levels and the chattering in my head swell to a howling gale. Now that the weather’s warmed and I’ve tried to squeeze myself into shorts and tank tops I’ve realized that my body has gotten softer and squishier, too. So, I decided it was time for some kind of change. A good old American overhaul. A renewal, if you will.

On Sunday I embarked on a seven day raw-food cleanse (basically a week of vegan eating, only raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds), guided by the fine folks at Skybaby Yoga who, for the past three years, have supported my community in a raw-food cleanse–replete with restorative yoga classes, discounts at health food stores, a recipe book and a pop-up shop that serves raw juices, snacks and a positive, healthy vibe. It’s sort of like going on a retreat but without leaving home.

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Soaking raw chick peas and and sunflower seeds for sprouting.

I’m only two days into the thing but there is some news to report. The first day of the cleanse was pretty easy, actually–as new and different things can sometimes be. For breakfast I blended up my almond milk and banana smoothie, I made an avocado and kale salad for lunch and whipped up (raw) cauliflower and curry soup for dinner and felt like a rock star. Sipping ginger tea & lemon water throughout the day was so satisfying that I barely gave a thought to the missed glass of rosé I usually pour around 6pm each evening as I start chopping and preparing stuff for dinner. Monday, however, was a bit more of a challenge. I slept well but woke up with a stuffy nose and sore throat. Some folks say that mild illnesses and symptoms like this are to be expected as one’s body works to rid itself of toxins and other yucky stuff. (There’s also a head cold going around so perhaps the extra mucus is nothing more than that.) Nevertheless the ginger and lemon teas help soothe my throat and I have a perfect excuse to rest and read–two activities that slip off of my to-do list with unfortunate regularity.

Cleanses like this are supposed to clean one’s body, but also clarify one’s mind. They can increase a person’s energy, help to boost your immune system, lower cholesterol and improve metabolism. Cleanses have also been known to clear the way for more acute mental focus, renewed happiness and better clarity of purpose. It’s the these last three components that I’m banking my growling belly on. My job search is stagnate, my poems are still unpublished and something’s gotta give. Here in America we persevere until it does, (right?).

More in a day or two…